Theater Therapy 101
Theater became the therapy ground with which I found expression for the confusing feelings I had toward the abuses I experienced while growing up. It became my place of refuge and strength and eventually my profession and mission.
As theater had helped me survive my personal crisis, I too use theater today to empower those under my care. As artistic and training director I have developed training programs for theater groups, various organizations and corporate groups using theater games from Viola Spolin and psychological exercises of Eric Morris. I'm glad to say that many have benefited from these trainings and many have been empowered.
Through this hub I wish to give some suggestions as to how you can use theater as your own therapy ground.
1. JOIN A THEATER WORKSHOP
Anyone who wants to overcome shyness, fear, insecurity and the like can find tools to help them in daily life after joining a theater workshop. There are many theater games that allow one to explore the hidden potentials and push one to "let go" of fears by simply enjoying the magic of BELIEVING in the scenarios given during the exercises.
Remember when we were kids? It was quite easy for us to believe that the dolls we were holding were actually crying or giggling or talking back to us ..and for the boys...well, that plastic gun used to be so real that when you heard the sound BANG! you would actually feel that bullet in your chest then moan in pain. I tell you the power of believing goes beyond the "play" -- it allows you to start believing in yourself too and that's a great place to start!
I've seen shy 5-year olds come out from their shells and dance on stage like it was their living room after a month of training and have witnessed aged 50-60 years play like they were 5-year olds after an hour of theater games. That's the magic of "BELIEVABILITY"
2. JOIN A STAGE PRODUCTION
Your social skills, people skills, time management skills, leadership skills, communication skills, cost effeciency skills and even crisis management skills can really be honed once you join a production.
I often tell my clients in the academe and corporate world that theater is not all glamour but a venue to build character. It takes more than just good looks, good voice, good dancing and acting abilities to become a professional theater artist --- it takes a good working attitude. They normally look at me with questioning eyes but after going through the experience and seeing the result of their respective productions involving their students or workers they have nothing but praises for the training covered during the production activities. They could not believe that non professional actors can actually perform like pros.
There was also this one summer when two parents (one with an 8-year old ADD and another with a 17-year old ADHD case) approached me in separate occasions and said that if I could make their kids be disciplined enough to act on stage for the summer culminating activity it's "hats off " to me. The parents were both my former drama club students. I was more happy to see them trust me with their kids than having to worry about how the other kids would cope having these two energetic beings in their respective classes.
When the summer show ended, both parents approached me with joy and some tears of disbelief that their respective sons carried out their roles with flair and with discipline to boot. I smiled, hugged them and whispered something like..." well, theater worked well for you, why shouldn't it work for your son?". We parted laughing. Oh and both mothers are successful in their respective careers in business and education.
3.EXPRESS TRUTH IN ACTING
One of the best thing that theater offers is the fact that one gets to take on various roles emoting various feelings. This is the best venue one can use to allow suppressed feelings in real life to come out -- needless to say in the appropriate times. If your role requires to be mad at someone in the scene then make it real by believing that the person you're really mad at in real life is the person standing in the scene with you.
Use the opportunity to vent out unexpressed or pent up emotions. It not only helps the scene become believable and give you temporary relief but more importantly gives you a reference point as to the degree of anger you actually feel towards the person in your real life. This can then guide you as to what you ought to do to help lessen or remove this anger all together.
4.WRITE A P0EM, SONG, PLAY OR A MUSICAL
The excerpt below comes from the original musical I wrote entitled TALL TALES, which was awarded a grant from the National Commission for Culture and Arts, Phils. under its Artistic Excellence Programme. It shows much of how I used theater to send a message to those who need to understand themselves better and inspire them to become a more creative and confident being. After all, as Shakespear would put it, "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players".
I used popular western fairytale characters to show how a "victim" mindset brings hopelessness, how the witches of these characters offer them temporary relief, and how the respective consciences of these characters are currently on "silent strike" because of their insistence to no longer listen to their higher selves.
TALL TALES Excerpt
Story Teller: And so our friend's journey begins in a world beyond fantasy, in a time beyond infinity. Some may call this a folktale others may call it a legend. Some may see this as a myth others may see this as religion. Fairytales and tall tales or truth and faith --- It all leads us to uncover the essence of our very existence.
(enter upleft characters in full costume)
Cinderella: (frantic) Where is every body? Can't they ever come on time. Don't they know that every hour, every minute every second of my life counts. (bell rings) ahhh!
Snowhite: Don't remind me of time okay. How do you think I feel? Half of my life has been wasted waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting (slaps self) for that-that kiss!
Rapunzel:Oh please girls will you settle down can't we ever get together without you getting on each other's throat! Loosen up! Let down your hair!
Beast: That's exactly the attitude that prevents therapist from staying with us. They can't stand seeing you trying to out pity each other. Why can't you be strong like my beauty?!
Cinderella: How dare you compare us with that radical! She's too liberated! She should be exiled!
Snowhite: Too much liberation can ruin a relationship you know!
Rapunzel: I firmly believe it already has! Why do you suppose he's joining us in therapy!
Beast: My joining you here has nothing to do with what she's doing for women. You're just jealous because she's talks more sense than the three of you combined.
(Therese & manny enter at this point and observes from afar)
Rapunzel: Well, if that's how you feel then we're not talking to you till the therapist arrives
Beast: Fine, with me
(fairytale characters snob one another)
Therese: (looks closer) No...it can't be... Is that...no..yes..it is...that's snow white isn't it and that's rapunzel over there and oh look that must be cinderella... she still wears one glass sandal...why?
Manny: Ask them. You do want to understand why you're in the land of awakening right?
Therese: (goes down ) aren't you coming along?
Manny: This is the scene that requires me to look from a distance. Go ahead.
Rapunzel: (seeing Therese from a distance) She's here she's here
Snowhite: Finally , the waiting & waiting & waiting & waiting (slaps herself) is over. Now, we get to start our session
Beast: Come sit,sit I need to share my pain now
Cinderella: Oh but no, please..i should start the session today...have pity on me. My eyes are swollen with tears
Rapunzel: Wait a minute it's not for us to decide who goes first. She must decide.
(there is silence as everyone waits upon Therese to decide.)
Therese: What...oh...you mean I decide who...wait...you know what I don't even know why you're all here. I don't even know why I'm here-- So don't go asking me to make decisions.
Beast: You don't have to know why you're here you'll find that out later on. But somebody needs to start the ball rolling
Cinderella: I'm willing to start the session..please I beg of you....show your compassion
Snowhite: No choose me. I can't stand the waiting & waiting & waiting & waiting (every body slaps her) any longer. It's too much to bear.
Rapunzel: Let us be diplomatic about this. She must be given the task of deciding who amongst us should be given the opportunity of opening the session.
Therese: Look--It's your life you decide. Besides, i'm not....
Cinderella: But see that's the problem. We did decide on our own in the past and look what it got us. I ended up with a prince who loved nothing else about me but my feet. Notice the glass sandal. He never allows me to use the left one because he wants to see my toes. He says it makes him appreciate me more
Snowhite: And my prince loved only my silky, milky, lovely, pretty, white skin
Rapunzel: My prince loved nothing but my shiny, smooth, soft long black hair
Beast: My beauty insists I use this mask during recreation time. She says she misses the beast in me
Therese: I don't believe this all the time I thought you were all living happily ever after
All Victims: In your dreams
Cindy & Snowhite: Something must be done about this!
Rapunzel & Beast: Something should be done about this!
(Who Will Save Us production number follows)